"Choke-hold law:" How chiefs can combat ill-informed legislative police policies

Chief Steven Casstevens spoke at ILEETA 2015, urging leaders to stay aware of efforts in legislatures across the country that are making ill-informed policy decisions for local police

In Illinois, there are four — count ‘em  four bills introduced that would prohibit, in the words of one proposal "a method by which a person holds another person by putting his or her arm around the other person's neck … and includes, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe…."

The name of the quoted bill is the “Officer Chokehold Prohibition Act”. The bill provides an exemption for an officer who would be justified in using deadly force. The penalty? A minimum of five years in prison for the officer.

Who’s choking now?

Chief Steven Casstevens of the Buffalo Grove, (Ill.) Police Department spoke to trainers gathered for ILEETA’s opening ceremony and urged the membership to stay aware of efforts in legislatures across the country that are making ill-informed policy decisions for local police.

Casstevens, on the executive board of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and seeking a Vice-Presidency in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, urges chiefs to vigorously educate their legislators about law enforcement.

Legislators Rely on Chiefs for Input

A state representative once confessed to Casstevens that with the hundreds of proposals every session, if a police-related bill isn’t actively opposed by law enforcement, the assumption is that it is a good law. An example is an “anti-quota” bill that became law. Casstevens explained that the bill would make it illegal for him to send an officer to a citizen’s complaint of speeding in the neighborhood. If a chief instructs the officers to write tickets, he risks breaking the anti-quota law. 

The so called “choke hold” law would have dangerous consequences. Casstevens notes that a struggle on the street for a resisting arrestee can’t be choreographed to avoid the possibility of contact with a suspect’s neck. He noted that every high school wrestler would be able to do what a police officer would face felony charges for.

Chiefs Must be Informed on Pending Legislation

The chief emphasized that these bills are not just political posturing. The representatives supporting them fully intend and expect that they will become law. Legislative policy-making as a “knee-jerk reaction to a specific incident” ignores the layers of accountability that already exist.

“Local elected officials are the oversight,” says Casstevens. He points to accreditation and the courts as providing appropriate accountability without legislative micromanagement.

Casstevens also urged police leaders to interact with line officers to inform them of potentially adverse legislation, and to ask them how a proposal would affect their ability to do their job. This is important information he can share with representatives and with law enforcement lobbyists.

Police Leaders Must Prioritize Public Education

Citizens’ academies, ride-alongs, and ‘coffee with cops’ programs have an impact. Invite your state and local officials. Casstevens reminds us that traffic contacts are the number one police-citizen interaction. Building trust and professionalism there creates millions of opportunities. “Every single officer can make an impact.” 

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